Archive for the ‘my mom/dad’ Category

The comma argument

October 13, 2013

My family spent my mother’s birthday dinner in a heated argument about a comma.

I’m aghast that anyone would take a stand against me on this issue.

I am a linguist and an editor.

I may be so confused by science I believe there are little people inside my TV box, but it would be impossible to know more about punctuation than I.

The mark in question is the one often erroneously placed before the conjuction in a simple list: He picked his guitar, friends, and nose.

Today after school one of our closest family friends was attacked by my children. “What’s your opinion on the comma?”

“I don’t care.” Poor kid. He was wondering why he is our friend.

“You must.” I don’t know why they valued his support so strongly. This is a child who pronounces the ‘L’ in ‘talk.’

My daughter, by the way, is for the comma, as is my mother. My son and I are on the side of reason.

The children began to present their positions — simultaneously. My son called me in to define the rule. I used my voice of authority.

“You put a comma before the conjunction in a list only if the last item has a conjunction in it: Myles listens to Hannah Montana, The Jonas Brothers, and Donny and Marie. This rule is for clarity. It’s a favor to the reader.”

Myles gave me an ugly look.

My daughter insisted, contrarywise, that it’s using the comma indiscriminately that adds clarity. She began to expound, “If I ate macaroni and cheese first, then potatoes,” (big pause) “and steak….”

“Wait a minute!” I interrupted. “No vegetables? You won’t have to worry about commas. You’ll end up with a semi-colon.”

The children sent me back out of the room.

My mother and the blind guy

October 9, 2013

My mom once ditched a blind guy cuz he was scary.

When she was in college, she signed up to read books to him.

She didn’t know anything about him, save he had no sight, when she went to meet him in the university’s library.

He made a dramatic entrance.

He was large and tall, and he came in roaring and waving and banging his cane. He wore a big black cape and a spy hat. His arms were replaced by hooks at the elbow. His eyes were hollow sockets, but he had on one eyepatch. His facial skin had been mostly been blown apart.

I’ve always pictured one of those monsters Abbot and Costello met.

No way was she identifying herself, and how handy was this? She could just get up, and walk past him and out the door.

Naturally, she felt terrible. She had the back and forth of pity and justifications.

On one hand he didn’t have to dress and act that way. Surely he noticed the reactions, the women screaming.

But maybe he didn’t realize people don’t wear capes. And it was the ’60s. All the sighted people were expressing individuality. Didn’t he have the right to jump on the non-conformist bandwagon?

She made a new date, and saw it through.

It became a regular thing, and they became friends. She said he was interesting and smart.

He would tell her to highlight a sentence, then later when she was typing up his term paper, he would say, ‘In this spot insert the thing you underlined on page 43.” 

She learned that when he was 12 he was playing with a chemistry set and it exploded.

I respect that she gathered her courage to meet him again, prepared that go around for his frighteningness.

But I say as a rule, if you’re gonna make those kinds of choices in appearance, learn Braille.

And I say,

August 28, 2013

When I was 5 I had a plastic phonograph in my room. I would carry in my mom’s stack of albums, push the stubby black spindle through the Apple sticker on Magical Mystery Tour and sit back, eyes closed, to enjoy Baby, You’re a Rich Man and Fool on a Hill.

My mother, who attended a Beatles’ concert in the 1960s, also has a thick piano book called ‘The Compleat Beatles.’ Thanksgivings of my childhood meant Uncle Rob and Chauncey standing behind her with their guitars while her fingers scooted around the keyboard.

Uncles Monty and Hot Shot and all the wives would be gathered around singing. We would shout requests until 3 in the morning. Nobody made me to go to bed and miss all the fun.

I know Uncle Hot Shot’s favorite is Run for Your Life, Monty’s is Martha My Dear, and  Mom hates to play Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

I know all the words in that thick book.

Someone always wants to sing Here Comes the Sun.

Now we’re getting to the point of this post.

This is a beautiful song.

But I can’t stand it.

I would never say the sun was coming up. I don’t say the sun rose or set or went behind the mountains.

The sun is holding still.

I always say we’re turning away from or toward the sun.

I try to sing along, but I sound silly singing “Our part of the Earth is turning toward the sun, little darling.”

It’s not all right.


June 21, 2013

In honor of Fathers Day I offer you the benefit of my dad’s words:

  • It’s not cold; you’re cold.
  • Turn it down. (He now has a surround sound system I can hear at my house with my own TV on.) (I’m exaggerating.)
  • Speeding isn’t as big a deal as not being the fastest one on the freeway.
  • Don’t breathe when you swallow. (He offers this when people are choking. He’s helpful.)
  • and my favorite, You can’t order what I’m ordering. If we were all going to eat the same thing we could have stayed home, (because identical meals prepare themselves…).

These, of course, are in addition to the classics. I apparently spent my childhood trying to air condition the entire neighborhood.

And yes, I have heard each of these from my own mouth since I became a parent.

The ranting waiter story

June 8, 2013

My husband hates this story. Everytime it comes up, he gets angry. 

I figured since I wrote the story my children hate, I’d make a trilogy. Tomorrow I will post the story I most hate. You will hate it too.

One afternoon I had a lunch date with my mom and Nana at an expensive restaurant in our quiet Main Street-style downtown. It went badly.

When we got there the place was barren.

For some reason we were neglected. Some people came, ordered, ate and left while we waited.

I said, “When this is over we will have paid about $35 each for a miserable afternoon.” That kind of ticket is a splurge for me. I can’t afford to spend that casually.

We left.

Our waiter found us two doors down at a fifties-style burger joint.

We had just ordered and were standing in the middle of the dining room looking for a place to sit when he burst in, insisting we go back. “This isn’t fair! I’ll have to pay for all your food.”

He didn’t apologize. He argued those that ate had gotten there first.

My grama looked like she was trying not to cry. “Let’s just go back. People are looking,” she kept saying.

Everyone was staring. They listened to the waiter yell at us in front of the jukebox until the Betty’s Burgers manager brought out our order and offered to find us a table.

When I related this to my husband he turned red. He said, “He treated you that way because you’re women. If I had been there, he never would have done that. Makes me so angry.”

I think it’s sweet that my husband gets so worked up. I tell this story a little more often than I need to.

Call 911!

May 31, 2013

My daughter loved A.A. Milne poems. One evening while my son and husband were at Little League practice, she was reading When We Were Very Young — My Oldest Friend’s favorite book, which she gave as a welcome-baby gift.

The Baby was cheerfully reciting Rice Pudding.

She stopped abruptly. She was struck with an idea. “Can we make rice pudding?”

I called Mom, the knower of how to make everything. She came right over.

I opened the door to see red splatters across her T-shirt on her abdomen. She was urgent, ‘I’m bleeding! Call 911!’

I must introduce you to my mom here. My mother is not a practical jokester. She’s not even a laugher at practical jokesters. What she is is a worrier. For instance, she can’t watch when people on TV go up high. She begs me not to let my teenagers ride roller coasters. You get the picture.

I yelled, ‘Oh my God!’ and she smiled. Then she bent to pick up a dripping flat of strawberries.

Who was this woman?

I don’t know what made me remember this story, but it visited me early this morning.

Later I had to call Mom about something else. Before I hung up, I asked,  “Mom, do you remember that time you came over to make rice pudding–”


“–and you had some strawberries–”


“You’re laughing?”

“That was a good one.” A good one? It was the only one.

She defended herself,  “I didn’t plan it. I noticed that juice looked just like blood. It was spontaneous.”

Spontaneity makes it OK to scare my intestines clean?

“You had such a look of horror on your face . . . ,” more laughing.

“Well, yeah. You scared me.”

‘”Yeah, that was a good one.”

The haunted apartment

May 28, 2013

As long as I’m poaching Unca Rob’s blog posts, I might as well go all the way. I’m taking the big one.

This is my family’s classic ghost story.

You can read the account straight from the guy who saw the ghost, so really, you don’t need me. My version will be more condensed, and from my mom’s perspective. She remembers some of the details differently.

My mom had a boyfriend with an apartment in a nearby town. His room was on the second floor.

One night he told her he was awakened by the front door’s opening and closing. He thought it was his roommate.

He said he heard the usual vibration of the iron stair railing as someone ascended, but didn’t get an answer when he called his roommate’s name.

Then he saw a figure walk into his room, stand over the bed a moment, then disappear into the closet. Scared the heck out of him.

About a week afterward, my mom was in Auntie Martha’s living room with her brother (Unca Rob), her cousin (Uncle Chauncey), and Chauncey’s wife, Dena.

They were telling ghost stories, but nobody believed any of them.

Then Mom told what was happening in her boyfriend’s apartment.

Mom says Chauncey’s eyes got real wide. He asked for the address.

He said he lived in that building two years ago.

Uh huh. This is the same guy who told mom and Rob Frankenstein lived behind the university.

He described thinking his roommate had come in. He heard the iron railing vibrate. A figure came in the room. It disappeared into the closet.

Dena was nodding. She remembered it all. My mother wasn’t liking this.

Chauncey said, “It was Apartment 45, wasn’t it?”

According to Mom, “Everyone was freaked out.” A legend was born.

Memorial Day

May 25, 2013

Today is supposed to be in memory of people who died in service to our country.

I don’t know any.

But I know a lot of people who were willing to.

I know that my grandmother (on my mom’s side) married my grampa immediately before he was shipped to Europe to fight in World War II as a member of the Army Air Corps. There was no communication for three years. She didn’t know, during all that time, if he was alive.

And I know that Granny (on my dad’s side) spent every night of the Vietnam War watching fish swim around her tank. My dad was in Da Nang. He had enlisted in the Air Force, and she couldn’t do anything but watch the fish and try to keep breathing.

And I know Boom Boom lost her job when her husband was sent to Afghanistan. She was unable to work nights and be a single mother of four girls. Her employer couldn’t accommodate her shift request. That only added to the stresses of having a husband at war.

Whether being at war was a wise move or a mistake, supported or protested, right or wrong, they volunteered to do whatever was asked of them. They and their families sacrificed comfort and safety so people like me could enjoy the life of freedom, comfort and safety this country has to offer.

Arthur Anderson, Tony Aulbach, William Badgely, Bob Barton, Fred Bauman, Sandy Beach, John Berry, Bill Buchanan, Ramon Cesneros, Howard Chapman, Stephen Chapman, Newton Cole, Neal Derry, Summer Duval, Jason Frey, Bill Garcia, John Guerrero Sr., Harold Houser Sr., Skip Howard, Sam Irwin, Jay Johnson, Albert Landeros, Dan Landeros Sr., Danny Landeros Jr., Eddie Landeros, Raul Landeros, Lee LeBlanc, David Lowy, Joseph Lucero, Tom Martin, Bill and Marie Elaine McClintock, Aaron Mello, Chris Miller, Edwin “Bill” Momberger, Chris Nicholoff, Donald Park Sr., Joseph Park Sr., William Park, Carlos Puma, Tim Radsick, Phil “Sonny” Romero, Alex Salmon, Rick Sforza, Kyle Siegel, Elbert “Smitty” Smith, Monte Stuck, Charles Wheeler, Vickie Wilson, and their families.
Not all of them are still with us, but they all came home.

Not all of them are still with us, but they all came home.

To those on my list and those I neglected to mention, thank you for your service.

The James Bond theme

May 19, 2013

My son and husband just rented Quantum of Solace. They’re doing their guy thing in the living room, while my daughter and I make baby clothes for my brand new niece.

We have Grey’s Anatomy on. It’s making us cry. We are not doing the guy thing.

I have never seen a James Bond movie. It’s my son’s first.

One Christmas I got the game Cranium. My son and I were a team, and I drew a name-that-tune card. It was the James Bond theme.

Shoot, I didn’t know the James Bond theme.

So I hummed the Mission Impossible theme.

My son yelled, “The James Bond theme!” and we won the game.

Yeah, we’re that good.

The refrigerator story

April 17, 2013

My favorite uncle has a blog too. He e-mailed me the other day calling dibbs on the refrigerator story.

I respect dibbs as much as the next guy, so I ruefully considered the episode off limits.

Then I had three thoughts. 1) Unca Rob hasn’t written a post since before the Superbowl, and that one appears to have been deleted. 2) I have now given him seven days to use his dibbs, which everyone knows expire after three. And 3) He already got the haunted apartment story. Family lore should be fairly distributed.

So here it comes. Remember You hate to hear it? You have not yet begun to cringe.

My great-grandmother had a small refrigerator in the ’50s. It had one of those handles that attached in the center but continued up like a spire to the top of the door.

One afternoon during a family party, all of the children were playing hide and seek or tag or something. Unca Rob would know.

One of the cousins climbed on top of the fridge. He was a little boy.

At olly-olly-oxen-free he slid off. But he aimed poorly.

The handle went up through his anus. He hung there, legs adangle, until rescuers were able to slide him up and off.

He had to go to the hospital.

He’s fine now.

But I’ll bet you’re not.

The ghost story

March 7, 2013

I grew up in a haunted house.

It was a hundred-year-old craftsman that had for some time served as a convelescent home. We assume our ghosts were old people.

I’ve got 15 years’ worth of hauntings to talk about, but this is my favorite.

One afternoon, when I was in high school, my friends and I went to my house for lunch.

When it was time to return to class, I followed everyone through the hardwood entryway and was the last out the door.

The door had a wood frame, but was primarily glass panes. There was a sheer white curtain on the inside of it that didn’t do much to obscure the view.

On each side of the door were vertical panes of windows. Indoors there were thick glass shelves clamped in under each pane. My mother had little blown-glass vases on them that she bought at art shows.

It was my job to clean the glass in the entryway. I hated wrestling those shelves out of those metal clamps.

I was turning the key in the lock when I realized I had forgotten my purse. I changed the rotation of the key and stepped back inside the house.

I was barefoot. I was always barefoot. Fun fact: I fed the school some story about my American Indian heritage. I don’t know if they bought it, but they said if I carried my shoes around with me they would let it slide.

When I stepped back into the house I felt cold under my feet. I was standing on a 100-year-old glass shelf. I made a noise.

My friend had turned around yelled something like ‘no way.’

Ten little glass shelves were lined up like stepping stones from the door to the living room. The clamps were empty. The vases were gone.

Most people say, ‘They were probably like that when you walked out, and you just didn’t notice.’

This is impossible. Even if we hadn’t seen the path or the absence of vases, the shelves were thick. Four teen-agers had just tromped through there. One of us would have kicked them, and I would have felt the cold under my feet.

No one had had time to move them, and they sure didn’t fall.

Over the next four years my parents and I found those vases one at a time: one morning we spotted one behind the leg of a desk; another time one turned up in the refigerator.

My friends, meanwhile, didn’t go to my house for lunch anymore.

Frankenstein Road

March 2, 2013

Today is my Uncle Chauncey’s birthday. Uncle Chauncey is an imp.

He used to take his little cousins, my mama and Unca Rob, to a narrow road in town, where he said Frankenstein’s monster lived.

They were afraid. He was amused.

This road has an oft dry creek running alongside. It’s dark — lined with oaks and eucalyptus trees. It’s creepy.

He showed where the scientist’s plane crashed, stranding the monster. He showed them the propeller.

He said it was called Frankenstein Road.

Naturally, when I was a kid my mother did the same to me.

And you can bet I’ve taken my children monster scouting on that road during thunderstorms.

This family has many imps.

The lump in my breast

February 24, 2013

One of  my favorite girlfriends just told me she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer.

It’s Stage 0, which is good news, but I know good news like that isn’t as calming as logic would suggest. When you’re faced with losing a breast, it’s hard to see the cup as half full.

A few years ago I was in a hotel six hours from home when I found a lump. My husband was home. Both kids were on the hotel bed playing video games.

I had barely settled into the bathtub when I felt it. My mother had had breast cancer. I went from zero to panic with one touch.

We were in Sacramento for an academic competition, which means we were with a group from the school.

As calmly as I could, I hollered for the kids to run across the hall and get my girlfriend. To their credit, they didn’t say anything about the bizarreness of my asking them to bring my friend to join me while I had a bath.

By the time she came in I was wrapped in my robe, sitting on the toilet. I was hysterical and couldn’t get the words, “I found a lump in my breast” out.

One of the other girls in our gaggle had had breast cancer twice. We knew this danger was real.

I pulled my robe aside to expose my breast and put her hand on the spot. I was breathing like a machine gun and my eyes were beginning to swell.

She ran out of the room to get one of the other moms, who’s an OB/GYN.

My poor kids must have been crazy with speculation. ‘It’s nothing, kids, just a little bathroom party,’ I would have said, if I could have said. ‘Got any of those blowy horns?’

Our doctor friend was comforting. She said the soreness and the jumpiness of the mass ruled out cancer. She told me not to worry.

I worried. For Pete’s sake I could see it. And it felt hot, but maybe that’s because I wouldn’t stop rubbing it.

I didn’t sleep that night. I thought of all the things I want to do before I die. I thought of every person who might attend my funeral.

Even knowing my lump didn’t fit the cancer-lump profile, I was afraid. I was terrified of the small chance I would hear I had cancer.

I thought of our friend, who heard it twice. She was at the beach when she felt her lump, and must have felt like this. Worse, her fears were validated. I lay there realizing I hadn’t imagined her going through this frantic dizziness. Wow, my mother went through this. And worse.

Now another friend is going through it. And worse.

My doctor girlfriend was right. I had a biopsy that confirmed it was nothing but the flotsam of my breast — milk duct tissue or some such. I felt like a drama queen.

My girlfriend who was just diagnosed caught it early through a routine mammogram.

I’m helpless to ease her anxiety. The best I can do is be her bosom buddy.

Pulp Fiction

February 22, 2013

Last night we watched Pulp Fiction again.

I had made a best-movies-of-all-time list years ago, and my son’s been working his way through it. He agrees with my taste. Pulp Fiction is number 4. Finally we decided he was mature enough to watch it.

There’s a scene where John Travolta’s character is buying drugs, and The Tornadoes’ ‘Bustin’ Surfboards’ is playing. This was the first surf song to get national airplay.

The Tornadoes are from my town. My Uncle Chauncey used to jam with them. The lead guy, Gerald Sanders, is my uncle’s BFF.

When the movie producers came knocking, they wanted the orignal vinyl recording of the song. Gerald didn’t have one.

My mom did.

When Gerald came knocking, she didn’t want to give it up. He promised to have it back before she could say blueberry pie.

He didn’t. What you hear in that movie is my mama’s stolen 45.

If you’re reading, Gerald, give it back. Pretty please, with sugar on top….

Update: This story is not accurate. Please read the comments for a correction from Uncle Chauncey himself.

My mom cracks me up

February 17, 2013

One afternoon my mom and I were shopping at a big mall out of town. I was doing the pee pee dance.
“I gotta pee in the worst way,” I said.
“Hanging upside down?”
Yeah, that’s what I needed — laughter.

The lasagne story

February 14, 2013

Tonight in honor of Valentine’s Day I am making tomato soup with parmesan cream. It’s a beautiful red soup, in which you put a circle of cream dollops. Drag a knife through them and you have a ring of white hearts in your bowl.

No matter what I make, it won’t be as memorable as my first Valentine’s dinner with my husband. This dinner has become family legend.

I was a college student, and I didn’t have much experience cooking.

My mama, however, is a miracle in the kitchen, so by phone she led me through making a lasagne. She gave me her secret recipe.

My boyfriend and I had been together for almost 11 months.

When he got to my apartment he was met with candlelight and the smell of toasting garlic bread. Vivaldi was in the cassette player. My legs were shaved.

That lasagne was the best tasting meal in the history of good-tasting meals. My day of toil was pulsing with reward. I was both sexy and domestic. We were in love.

I was imagining how we would clink our glasses and slow dance. I was totally high on the romance of it all.

Then my boyfriend went to the oven to get another piece of lasagne. The pan was hot. He dropped it on the floor. Food was everywhere.

There went the rewards of my toil. My date was angry.

We pull this story out periodically, because my husband forgives us our mistakes, but when he makes one, we duck and cover.

Meanwhile, I’ve learned to put the food on the dinner table.

My dad used to say…

February 11, 2013

Today one of my students was complaining, “It’s too hot in here.”

I told her, “My daddy used to say, ‘It’s not hot; you’re hot.”

Know my my dad says now? It’s hot in here.

How I came to learn Spanish

February 9, 2013

I once was a long-term substitute in a Spanish class. I can speak the language pretty well, but most of the words surprise me by sight. I often say, “Is that what that word looks like? I would have spelled it completely differently.”

This is because I have never studied the language.

When I was 19 I worked in the office of a college. How I came to work in that office is a whole story in itself. I will tell it soon.

One afternoon the Hot Guy I had been trying to figure out how to meet walked in to ask for an application packet for a semester in Mexico.

“I’m going on that,” I said. I had never heard of this program.

I went to my mom and gave her one of the packets to sign. She didn’t even lift a brow, which makes me wonder how she stood me.

She said, “It says you have to be able to speak Spanish. You checked ‘Yes.’ ”

“I’ll figure it out by June. I took French in junior high.”

She signed the form and wrote a check. It was mid-March.

How cool is this? I called my grama to tell her about my upcoming trip, and by bedtime my grandparents, two of their friends and I had plane tickets for spring break in Mexico — a 10-day crash course on location.

My grandparents both spoke Spanish fluently. This is how they communicated when they didn’t want their kids to know what they were saying.

We went to Mexico City, San Cristobal de las Casas and Palenque.

We saw ancient pyramids recently discovered underneath forests, with hidden sarcophagi. We hitched a ride to a village on a sideless VW bus, and when we got there we met a woman making tortillas on the ground and children who had never seen sunglasses. At night we ate fresh blueberry pancakes from a vendor with a griddle on wheels outside a cathedral.

I learned Spanish by hanging out with children trying to sell me little things they made. I taught them some songs, and they taught some to me.

Before I left, I gave a little girl my sunglasses.

By June I spoke broken Spanish, but I could make myself understood. I was able to survive living with a family and attending the university there.

I dumped the Hot Guy after a week for the Smart Guy. That’s another story too.

link to photos

The stairway-door story

February 7, 2013

One of the girls in my high school clique used to say, “That’s my dream house” when we drove by an old haunted-looking thing with a turret and broken windows.

She said she would fix it up and put a carousel horse in the picture window of the turret.

Skip 20-plus years later to tonight, when her husband gave me my first tour of it. It’s a dream house for sure.

My son said, “I’m jealous you have a door to the stairs.”

The old house I grew up in had a door at the bottom of the stairs. It had a jiggly aluminum doorknob, and locked with a turn of a knob on the downstairs side.

Between our ghosts and attempted break-ins my mom and I were skittitsh girls.

One afternoon we walked in the house and saw and heard the knob turning. My mom ran up to it and turned the lock. As we ran out of the house we heard it rattling violently. Someone was trying to get out.

We were only three blocks from the police station and on the same street, so we drove there. We ran in in a panic.

Within minutes three patrol cars, lights aflash, were in the driveway of my house. They entered the house with their backs to the walls. Their guns were drawn.

They got in position around the stairway door, nodded to one another and opened it slowly.

My cat got off his hind legs, took his paws off the doorknob and ran out.


The butter story

February 3, 2013

Tonight as a dinner side dish we had rosemary-lemon bread, which I had made from scratch. I used rosemary and lemons that we grew in the yard, and had set the dough by the heater before bed last night for 18 hours of rising.

My husband joked, “If you really loved us, you’d have churned the butter fresh.”

I once tried this.

When I was about 10 my mom and I bought cream for this purpose. It was going to be great fun. We put it in jars, put on a Chubby Checker album and went sock-foot onto the hardwood floors to shake it up Twist-dancin’-style.

We shook and we shook and we shook. It didn’t turn into butter.

My mom said, “No problem. We can add sugar to it and we’ll have whipped cream.”

So we did, but we didn’t. Guess what happened after it sat in the fridge. It hardened into butter. Sugary butter.

It was awful on garlic bread.


January 22, 2013 is reporting a new district attorney in Boulder is looking into the JonBenet Ramsey murder.

That murder is the reason we left Boulder.

When I was a single college student, I lived with a girlfriend in the front half of an unimposing duplex near the university. It was a flat box of a house with no personality. After I moved in, I walked over to the most impressive house on the block, took a picture, and mailed it home to California with a note saying, ‘Here’s my new place.’ It was the Ramsey house.

As a newlywed a year later, I bought my first house across the street from the Ramsey’s block. In the five years I lived in the neighborhood, I never met the Ramseys.

By 1996 I was working in the newsroom at the local paper. My parents and grandparents had come visiting for the holidays. Even on Christmas night I had to work, but I got to clock in later than usual — 9 p.m. instead of 7.

I invited my family to drive me to work, using the opportunity to drive around looking at Christmas lights. The last house I took them to see before they dropped me at work was the Ramsey home.

‘Recognize this one?’ I teased. It was about 8:58 p.m.

The murder was a big story in Boulder. It was hard to work, because every night someone was in my way — Geraldo Rivera, ABC Atlanta, Dateline, they were all in the newsroom at some point. One night I came in and Katie Couric was being filmed sitting on my desk.

There was chaos. Officers were alluding to knowledge. One reporter hung up and rolled her eyes next to me, “He said ‘I don’t want to say we have a suspect, but there were no footprints in the snow.’ ”

The paper ran with it, only to run a clarification that there was no snow on the whole south yard, which is where the broken window to the basement was.

Meanwhile, there was “a killer on the loose.” We saw it on TV. Patty said it in her first interview on CNN. “If I were a resident of Boulder, I would tell my friends to keep your babies close to you, there’s someone out there.”

Wait a minute. I was a Boulder resident. I had babies.

I was up checking on them throughout the night. The last time JonBenet was seen alive was an hour after we went by, when her mother tucked her in bed. On the nights I was home to do that, I couldn’t put that thought aside. I fought that, because I could see I was missing the tucking with all the imagining.

I couldn’t escape it. The paper more than covered this story. We smothered ourselves with it.

I had to get away. My last day at work in Boulder was eight months after the murder. Dateline NBC cameramen were in the newsroom.


A happening

January 20, 2013

In my lifetime, today happened.

My daughter asked to miss school to accompany me to a brunch this morning, where people were gathering to watch President-elect Obama be sworn in.

It was an emotionally charged morning. I sat at a table between my parents, across from my grandmother and my daughter, and watched a black man become my president. I tried to eat, but I couldn’t swallow. I guess there was too much proud in my throat.

When the oath was finished, and President Obama said, “So help me God,” we cried. People stood and clapped. And embraced. Celebration drove a need to hold one another.

I love what happens to us during historic moments. We have happenings. People came together to watch Neil Armstrong set the first footprint on the moon. We came together to grieve on Sept. 11 2001. We came together today. We gather to watch, to rejoice, to share awe or fear, to support and to touch.

On the way home, my daughter, who is 14, said, “It must be a bigger deal than I can understand that he’s black.” What a beautiful statement of how far we’ve come.

It was only a year away from being in my husband’s lifetime that Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, outlawing racial discrimination in schools and employment — and in public. It wasn’t until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act enforced blacks’ suffrage. That was within my husband’s lifetime.

And now today happened. And my daughter doesn’t see a black man; she just sees a man.

Today, as always, I celebrate being an American. Today, as I do every four years, I celebrate the right to participate in my government. And today, for the first time, I celebrate that the people of my country chose to turn to a man for leadership, who in my parents’ lifetime would have been legally beaten in the doorway while watching his light-skinned brothers register to vote.

At dinner with my family tonight, I will raise a glass to the following people: every American soldier who has shed blood or was willing to shed blood protecting my right to vote, read a newspaper and choose my own church; Harriet Tubman; Dred Scott; Rosa Parks; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson; and President Barack Obama.

I salute their courage — and as I was reminded this morning — their hope and virtue.

The earthquake

January 9, 2013

I live in Southern California. Last night we had a lengthy earthquake, and both of my children were somewhere else. It was a small quake — initially reported as a 5, then downgraded to  4.5 — but still the phone lines were clogged for a few minutes. Because of this realization, I was more afraid after the quake than during.

Naturally, I have an earthquake story.

It was October 17, 1989, and I had just been named the news editor of my college newspaper in Los Altos Hills, which is just south of San Francisco.

I was in a happy bubble as I drove home through the old-fashioned downtown at 5 o’clock. There were mom-and-pop shops with picture windows on both sides of the little streets. Knick knacks, ice cream, records — Los Altos is great for shopping.

Stop signs keep the cars moving slowly through the area, but the tailgating guy behind me was impatient. He would move to the side, as if to see if he could go around me. I remember I thought, ‘I’m a real journalist now. You can’t spoil my mood.’ But I knew he was angry.

At the third stop sign, I felt the car start to idle hard. This wasn’t unusual. Then it bucked a little, and I thought, ‘That guy got out of his car and started jumping on my bumper!’

As I turned around to scowl at him, I heard, ‘Get away from the windows!’ A woman ran out of a store into the street and stopped in front of me, holding her pre-teen daughter protectively under hunched shoulders. That’s the image I hold the strongest. That woman trying to shelter her daughter in panic.

I panicked too, trying to think if I had ever heard something like, turn off the engine or your car will explode; or roll down the windows or they’ll shatter. I thought it was The Big One I’d been advised to handle my whole life, and I couldn’t remember any of the advice. I shut off the engine and rolled down the windows.

I was one block from the intersection at the expressway, and I saw the asphalt there roll like an ocean wave, toppling the red-light signal as it changed to green and flickered out.

I had to drive around the downed signal to head into the mountains going home. That made me cry, but I didn’t understand why. I cried all the way home.

When I got there, I went directly to my phone — stepping over a bookcase, tapes, my little face-down TV — and called my parents. I was surprsied to get an open line. I kept my message brief because I knew the line would clog: I’m OK; I’ll call you tomorrow.

Then I called my paper’s managing editor. I was a journalist after all. ‘Mike, you’ll never guess what happened to me on the way home from your house! I’m heading to the campus.’

Mike argued with me, but I was a real journalist.

Finally he said, ‘Hey.’


‘Take your camera.’

It was a darn good thing he said that.

I interviewed and photographed students sitting on knolls, riding out the aftershocks removed from the danger of buildings. I captured the aisles of the library, piled feet high with books. I got some rubble that had been a chimney.

And then the sun went down.

I had never been in darkness so total. If I hadn’t had that camera, I don’t know how I would have found my car. I made the flash go off and took a step. I went flash-step all the way to my car. I must have been the last one on campus.

As I had expected, the phone was out by the time I got home. The couple whose basement I lived in lent me a lantern. They had a transister radio going upstairs, where they listened in silence as they swept up the remains of all their colored-sand art jars.

We learned it was a 7.1.

School resumed a few days later when the power came back, but on Oct. 18 the dedicated staff met unsummoned in the newsroom. We pulled out manual typewriters to put together a special edition.

Everybody wanted to tell his earthquake story. They probably still do. Me too, apparently.

The diet story

January 3, 2013

There is an oft-told story in my family about my mother as a little girl, overhearing Nana saying she was going to diet.

My mother screamed and ran from the room. Nana found her crying on the bed.

“Don’t die yet! Please don’t die yet!”

By the time Nana was in her 80s, we were all saying it.

Knocking on sunshine

December 30, 2012

I’m not a fan of the knock-knock joke.

The first half is a pointless script. It’s a ritual. Don’t waste my time.

If there were some method by which you could say the third line and see if the other party could guess what you meant to add to it to make it funny, that would would be a better joke. I’m in.

But today on my morning radio program a guy called with one and cracked me right up.

Then I was driving home listening to old episodes of Barney Miller on my car’s back seat DVD player, and Nick spent the whole show trying to get someone to say ‘Who’s there?’, which I thought was funny, and which reminded me about the morning joke.

So I walked in the door and said to my husband, ‘Knock Knock.’

He said, as you know, because it’s the pointless ritual, ‘Who’s there?’

“Smell mop.”

He responded and I waited. He cracked up.

My son came in. I told it again. He called in my daughter. I told it again.

We were all cracking up in the kitchen.

In the middle of dinner I couldn’t stand it. I called Mom.

She said hello I said knock knock.

The family was laughing. She was laughing.

I had just spent two hours in the driving rain and stifled traffic, but there was sunshine in my home.

I love me a knock-knock joke.

Finding Christmas

December 25, 2012

A few Christmases ago I announced there would be no gift giving.

My children’s perspective on the holiday was awry.

They had become shallow and greedy. Christmas turned them into brats.

My son said, “But you’re taking away the best part.”

I raised a brow and he added, ” — the giving!”

Too bad. We were going to have a real holiday with a fire, caroling, charades and togetherness, and we were going to appreciate it with a good attitude, damn it.

This is when I discovered I truly am the boss. Everyone said OK.

I planned a Dec. 23 evening of caroling at hospitals, followed by egg nog and baked goods back at home. I invited the friends and neighbors of my parents, my kids and myself. It was glorious.

Christmas Eve I put on a turducken feast with the whole family — cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. There were hugs and games. Norman Rockwell had nothing on me.

Christmas morning brought the crowning glory of the whole year though, and it was a surprise to the boss.

We were lingering over the dregs of breakfast, and my mother was fussing with the remaining bacon. She was trying to give it away. Then she wanted to consolidate it to the potatoes plate. It was becoming disruptive.

I got irritated. I asked her to leave it lie.

Finally she said, “Heck with it.” She scooped all the bacon off and flipped over the platter. There was something taped to the bottom of it.

We looked at it and frowned. We looked at her. She just sat there. We looked at one another.

My grama reached out and took it. It had a line of hand-written music notes. There were shrugs and more looking around.

My mother just sat there. Nana passed it on.

Halfway around the table it got to my kids. They looked at it and read aloud by humming Deck the Halls in unison. Musicians and show-offs the both of them.

My mother finally spoke. “I thought you would go to the piano and play it.”

She was disappointed? We were all excited, what’s to complain?

We all ran to the hall. There were boughs of holly decked there. Tucked inside one was a slip of paper. It had a four-word crossword puzzle drawn on it.

Nana solved it. The four words led us out to the patio fountain. We found another clue there and a small basket of wrapped treasures. The hunt was afoot.

The six of us ran from clue to clue, puzzling them out as a team. Sometimes there were treasures too.

One of the clues was a rhyme about pressing against light. When we put the clue against a light bulb, invisible ink came to the fore and revealed the next destination.

Each was challenging and clever. Each played to a different family member’s strength.

It was more fun than opening gifts, which we returned to the next year, because doing Christmas right was too much work.

My son’s birth

December 24, 2012

When I was seven months pregnant with my son, people not only thought I was ready to deliver, but that I likely carried twins.

By the time I was in my ninth month my size was downright unreasonable.

My bottom left rib hurt. My back ached all the time. The baby kept getting hiccups. I was a  miserable pregnant lady.

More than once I thought raising the child had to be the easy part.

A week before I was due I heard “Silent Night” sung in harmony from  my porch. My parents and grandparents were standing in the snow, announcing their arrival from California.

The due date felt like it would never come. Then it passed right by.

On the morning of the 23rd I had my regular appointment with my CNM  (a midwife with medical training who works out of a hospital.) The hospital was in Denver, an hour away. After a nap at home, I woke up to an invitation to lunch at The Harvest.

Oh boy! A carob shake was in my future.

Ooh. Cramp.

Throughout my shake having, I had periodic pains. This is the last thing I wanted to say out loud in front of my mother, so I sneaked looks at my watch and kept track of how far apart they were. I watched the little airplane second hand fly around the map of Southern California on my Swatch.

After a time my dad said, in a ridiculously loud voice, “How far apart are they?”

Imp. Observant imp.

For dinner my mom and grama made albondigas. There’s good eatin’ when Mom and Grama come by.

Come dinner the pains hadn’t grown much larger or closer. But toward the bottom of my bowl I had one great big pain that didn’t stop.

I ran to the downstairs bathroom. There was something yucky and shake-like in my future.

Dad was there. I ran upstairs to the bathroom. Mom was there. Halfway down the stairs I couldn’t go up or down. I sat and screamed. Mom came out.

My husband got me into the bathroom and called the midwife. She said to draw a bath, light some candles and have some wine. It was time to relax. It would be a while.

I tried. Couldn’t. I was still with the big pain that didn’t stop.

Mom was all a-dither. We went to the hospital.

As we entered I started in with ‘I want an epidural,’ (I say ‘started in’ as if I hadn’t been saying it for nine months already.) I said it to the people in the lobby, the guy in the elevator and some nun handing out booties she’d knitted.

I was told it was too early. Hours of badness passed. I kept saying it.

I threw up my albondigas.

Finally I hit the magic number of dilatedness and my midwife came. I told her I wanted an epidural. She said it was too late.

Hours of hell passed. At some point I escaped everybody and locked myself in the bathroom. There was a lot of door pounding. I sat in the Jacuzzi and ignored them. I hated my nurses. I hoped their dogs died.

When I came out I was in trouble and didn’t care.

My midwife told me to push. There was no urge, but I pushed. I kept pushing. I got in trouble for pushing when I wasn’t having a contraction.

There was a break between my contractions? I had only felt one long pain since dinner.

At 6 in the morning, because it was either pass that baby or die, my body let that baby out. He was purple and limp. Me too.

I sound heartless, but I didn’t listen for the cries, or notice the glances of the staff looking at a seemingly dead baby. I couldn’t tell it was over. I was still with the pain.

As they worked to get him breathing, I began to feel some relief. I later learned my son broke both the hospital’s record for head crown size and my pelvis.

Now we’re both fine, but can you imagine my panic when I learned I was pregnant with my daughter?

Hall passes

December 21, 2012

I’ve had a couple of e-mails from people who read my ‘About T’ page, wondering about the hall passes.

Some don’t understand them. Some wonder why halfway through the year I went from Jon Stewart to Jon Stewart and Matt Dillon.

‘The point of a hall pass is to have only one,’ they say.

I will clarify everything.

A hall pass is license to be unfaithful to your spouse if a specified celebrity of unnatural hotness knocks on your door and offers his body.

My cousin got married this summer. She declared Johnny Depp her hall pass. My mother has called dibbs on Hugh Laurie. Good choices all around.

While we were having this conversation, I considered my husband and his hall pass, Salma Hayek. It occurred to me that he doesn’t need a hall pass.

So I took his.

Does that clear everything up?

The salad dressing decision

December 12, 2012

Last night we went to the annual Feastings events at my mom’s church. It’s a warm evening of dinner and choir performances that really puts us in the holiday spirit every year.

On and off again my mom is a part of the dinner making. She ran a catering business on the side for many years and is the go-to for many events around here still.

One of these years when she was involved, she was measuring out the walnut oil for the salad dressing when it occurred to her some attendees may have nut allergies. She stopped herself pouring it in and substituted canola oil.

That night, while eating his salad, a man had a stroke. His face pitched right into the radicchio and an ambulance was called. It wasn’t until after the event they learned what had happened to him.

I wasn’t there that year, but I got a call from my mom to hear about it. She was panting with relief.

“I was on the verge of changing my mind and going ahead with the walnut oil.” The road not traveled had gotten under her skin.

“I would have thought it was my fault. I would have thought I had made the wrong call.”

Whew. It would have made her nuts.

The piano in a paper bag story

December 2, 2012

When I visited my biological father in San Francisco, he was just moving into an outrageous penthouse home above Ghirardelli Square.

The building was old — in a good way. It was grand. It took my breath away.

From the penthouse terrace we could see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts, and Alcatraz.

This whole building was vacant. My father had been hired to design and oversee a parking structure under it. The digs were provided at no charge.

On this day I arrived he had to go do a thing.

My job was to meet the piano delivery guys. Their job was to get the shiny full-grand piano up to the top floor.

They came in scratching their heads, sans instrument.

“We’re gonna have to bring it up the stairs.” Duh. Were they expecting a larger elevator?

I stared at them, waiting for the point. The staircase was plenty wide.

“We need more guys.” Ah.

“I’m sorry. I’m visiting. I don’t have any guys.”

They laughed at me. I guess they weren’t asking for guys. They said they’d come back tomorrow.

When my father came back he looked around and made a little between-the-brows squeeze.

I remembered my mom said that when they lived in that fourth-floor walkup at Harvard, he carried a piano up in pieces, using paper bags.

So I said to him, “They’re coming back tomorrow. They wanted to buy some paper bags to bring it up in.”

“Hey I did that once!” This is my favorite part of this story. He thought that comment was a coincidence.

His bride made a between-the-brow squeeze. Oh goody! I was going to hear the story first-hand. I’ve known this story about 15 years longer than I’ve known him.

We settled in around the table and heard it told.

My father had visited a shop around the corner from his Irving Street apartment, and gave the owner some amount for an old piano.

He had neither vehicle, nor dolly, nor money for a mover, but he had a screwdriver and a lunch bag.

He dissassembled the whole thing and walked back and forth to the fourth-floor walkup, first with the bag full of keys, then hammers, then strings. He carried the frame in parts too.

My mom opened the door to find pieces strewn all over the floor, and her husband standing over them with a squeeze between his brow, trying to figure out how to put it all together.

He did, replacing ripped pads and chipped pieces in the bargain.

He moved that whole piano all by himself, but the professionals? They needed more guys.